Candidate for City Council, 23rd Ward
Education: I went to Chicago Public Schools my entire life. I graduated from Benito Juarez H.S. in 1995. I went straight to DePaul University and graduated in 2000 with a B.A. in Political Science. During my time at DePaul, I was part of many clubs and I was awarded the DePaul Senior Leadership Award and the Oscar Romero Award. In 1999, I was honored to be chosen to be an intern at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in Washington D.C. In 2004, I attended Northwestern University Graduate School for Public Policy and Administration. This program trained me to become at city manager.
Occupation: CFO & Green Builder, Chicagoland Construction and Property Services
Age: Not answered
Past Political/Civic Experience: Not answered
Q: Last year, the Chicago Tribune's investigative series "Broken Bonds" reported that, since 2000, Chicago had issued long-term bonds to spend nearly $10 billion, much of it for short-term operating expenses. Hundreds of millions of dollars went to delay bond payments by refinancing old debts, a tactic known as "scoop and toss" that extends payments far into the future. Was this borrowing justified? Going forward, how should City Hall change its finances to pay down existing debts and provide services? Will you argue primarily for cuts in spending or for tax increases? Please be specific.
1. "Scoop and toss" is a practice of delaying the inevitable. The only way to justify borrowing to pay down old debt would be if you can refinance at a lower rate. Moving forward, the City of Chicago should focus on reducing its costs through efficiencies as well as increasing its finances. We need to make sure that we raise revenue in the right way. I would like to make ensure that the city is able to service the resident of the City of Chicago, as well fulfill its employee pension funds. In my area, the Southwest Side of Chicago, I would like to raise revenue by redeveloping the Midway Airport area. We lose a lot of money in Southwest Chicago because money leaves the neighborhood and is spent elsewhere due to underdevelopment. I would like to avoid taxing our residents because I feel like Chicago is "taxing itself out of business". However, I do see some areas where we can create revenue by closing corporate loopholes; supporting a Fair Tax to make the financial burden more equitable. I would also be willing to support a LaSalle Street Tax. However, I am not willing to support raising our property taxes.
Q: Chicago will face a substantial increase in contributions to its police and fire pension funds in 2016. Chicago's unfunded pension liability amounts to about $7,000 for each resident of the city. How should the city solve its pension crisis? Please be specific about pension changes, spending cuts or revenue increases you would support.
The city has only one way to solve the pension crisis, which is to make the payments. It has taken too many pension holidays and we now have to face the music. We will have to raise the funds necessary to pay the pension. Pensions have been a cornerstone of retirement packages in municipal governments. The fallacy of this system is that it has been skipped and unsupported by political officials who have used the pension funds to shore up other budgetary holes. Since we don't print our own money, the City of Chicago needs to maintain a balanced budget without dipping into funds meant for retirees. I would vote yes, to use TIF funds to shore up the pension funds, as well as support a financial transaction tax to raise additional funds. We should also protect our monies, by not allowing toxic swaps be a part of our investment strategy. The bottom line is that retirees need to be respected and honored for their years of service and should not be shortchanged at their time of need. The City of Chicago must honor its commitment.
Q: What changes should be made in the city's use of tax increment financing? Would you support expansion or extension of TIF districts in your ward? How should excess TIF funds be spent? Do you support the $55 million allotment of TIF funds to buy land for a Marriott Hotel and DePaul basketball arena? Please explain.
I would like to see TIF reform and make sure that corporations are not given TIF money without any transparency or accountability. In addition, I would deem it a appropriate to see the City of Chicago as an "investor" in anyone given TIF funds, which would warrant dividends as well as a share of profits. TIF reform should assure that the funds established by this program go back to it original intent of helping blighted areas that would otherwise not receive any development. I do not support the Marriot and DePaul arena. I would use TIF's to bring revenue into the communities that need it. I would also use it to help assist with shoring up the pension system and school budgets.
Q: The Tribune Editorial Board recently offered "12 ways to heal a city" — the best ideas among more than 1,000 suggestions from readers on how to craft "A new Plan of Chicago." These proposals are available at chicagotribune.com/plan. Please tell us which ideas you would champion. We invite you to offer additional ideas for dealing with Chicago's challenges.
I grew up in Pilsen during its roughest era. A time when there was a different gang on every other block. I benefited form a program called the DePaul STEP Program. A program that took inner city kids at Benito Juarez H.S. and gave them enrichment classes in mathematics, science, literature, and offered mentioning. This was a program that engaged the youth. It was a program that texted you at the end of the year and in which you needed to get invited back, so it challenged you. I would support more university partnerships with our public schools for such programs to flourish and help prepare Chicago's kids for university life. An idea that I would champion would be the "Schools as tools" idea. It would improve community life if our schools served as community centers after school hours. Parents would have the ability to get additional training in computer skills, cooking classes, zumba, and many other things. Students could stay engaged and off the streets in sports, academic, and social clubs. It could also offer a place for working professionals to contribute back to the community by teaching a class in finance and budget management classes, community organizing, web app development, and many other options that may not be available during traditional school hours. Nonetheless, "Schools as tools" has many upsides like reducing crime, gang activity, lowering the drop out rate, increasing parental and community building. It can be funded through partnerships with existing organizations like the Boys and Girls Club, Boy Scouts of America, foundations, and corporations.
Q: Should the City Council keep or abolish the office of legislative inspector general? Should the city inspector general be given the authority to investigate aldermen and their staff members? Do you have other ideas to improve government ethics in Chicago? Please explain.
I believe that the legislative inspector is important role in a city's government. The powers of the inspector general should be expanded to be able to investigate sitting alderman. This would be a form of a watchdog group to ensure that that rules and regulations are being followed. Ethics in city council should be a high priority, because our tax dollars pay for the salaries for the alderman and their staff. Transperancy in our municipal government is of the highest importance or we will never get away from "Chicago Way" backdoor politics, which ruins credibility, trust, and finances of our city government.
Q: The Chicago Public Schools system has seen significant improvements in freshmen on track and high school graduation rates. CPS has also closed dozens of schools, used fiscal 2016 revenue to balance its 2015 budget and faces a roughly $700 million pension payment in 2016. Please give us your assessment of the academic and financial performance of the city's public schools. What is the key to improving public education in the city? Should members of the Board of Education be elected by the public or continue to be appointed by the mayor? Do you support the longer school day and year? Should CPS expand or reduce the number of charter schools? How should CPS close its significant budget gap?
One of the big issues is an elected school board, which would decentralize the power structure that the mayor currently has over the school board. Although I am in favor of the move, I am also weary of whether the elected school board would just move power from the mayor to power brokers in democratic machine. I am against Mayor Emmanuel's decision to close 50 schools. A school should be the center of a community and it should also be used as an after-school community center, not closed down. I am for a moratorium on charter school expansion. Although I acknowledge the right of charter schools to exist, we need certain reforms to allow more transparency, accountability, and to allow teachers the right to unionize. We also need to teach children to learn, not only to pass a test. Teachers need to be evaluated in a fair way that takes many factors of their job into account. The ultimate goal is a better teaching and learning environment.
Q: How would you attract more employers to your ward? How would you encourage employers to hire local residents? What have you done to promote economic development in your ward?
The 23rd Ward is unique in the fact that we have Midway International Airport. The current alderman has been asleep at the wheel in attempts to bring new development into the in the area. Bedford Park has out-worked our alderman in efforts to bring top hotels and restaurants to the Midway area. Redevelopment is the key bringing new revenue to our ward. I plan to support bringing new restaurants and small business to midway corridor. I want to parlay with existing parking structures in the Midway area, as well as build new parking lots to alleviate the lack of parking for established commercial streets that are being starved of business, such as Archer Ave. I will work with the local chambers of commerce and will establish a business incubator on the Southwest side.
Q: Do you support or oppose the City Council vote to increase the minimum wage in several steps to $13 an hour by 2019? Please explain.
I support the ordinance to increase the minimum wage to $13 an hour. This is a step in the direction. I believe we should raise the minimum wage to $15 as along we can ensure that our small business can stay competitive in that model. We need to take a careful look on how increasing the minimum wage to those levels will affect small businesses. We are also looking at the different types of reforms that Governor Elect Rauner will bring to increase commerce in the State of Illinois. Nonetheless, the workers of Chicago deserve a raise, and we should be forward thinking enough to make sure that working families to be able to afford life.
Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.
I do not support the building of a private museum on Chicago's lakefront. This would not only go against Chicago's Lake Front Protection Ordinance, but also take two parking lots from Bears fans. The Bears are one of the teams that unite the city, and create revenue for the city. Tailgating has been a Chicago tradition for many years, it would be a shame if Darth Vader were to cut the heads off Chicago Bears fans. Lucas can find a different location in Chicago that can be more suitable for everyone. We've already sold our parking meters, I definitely don't want to sell our lakefront.
Q: How can the city improve public safety? Please address the role and performance of the Chicago Police Department and the role of neighborhood residents in crime prevention. What have you done to improve public safety in your community?
I think it is important to for the City of Chicago to take a holistic approach toward crime prevention and public safety. We need more after school programs, more jobs that make a livable wage, as well as more police officers protecting our streets. We need to expand the Summer Jobs program that was open under Mayor Daley. It's also key to make the schools a center of community. Where kids and parents can feel safe and can promote job training and keeping students engaged in their community.
Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.
I do not support Chicago's Traffic Camera Program. I believe that the program is not increasing public safety, and was created to generate revenue. It has disproportionally targeted the lower income neighborhoods. I do not support a program that takes the due process from the courts and places it upon a camera.
Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?
I think that Chicago should reduce the amount of alderman. The reduction in population of the city of Chicago merits a reduction of public officials. This will allow the city to spend less money on alderman and more money on staff to assist the people of Chicago.
Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?
The biggest concern in 23rd ward is the lack of funding for our public schools. We have elementary schools that are struggling to keep up with the overcrowding population. Schools like Peck Elementary do not have a lunchroom and the students have to eat their cold lunch in their classroom. I also would like a top college prep school close by in the Southwest side. As aldermen, I will lobby to bring a Southwest College Prep to fruition. The students of the Southside deserve to have the same advantages as those from the Northside.
Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
Two things: 1. I was put in a choke hold by Fidel Castro's body guards in 1996 when I visited Cuba. 2. My parents were able to come to America in the 1960's because of their wedding present given to them. The wedding present was a pig that that had piglets and were able to sold so that my parents could afford to come to America. I a very grateful and proud of my parents for all the struggles that we went through to get where we are today.